ISLAMABAD, April 21: Senior PML-N figure Javed Hashmi seemed mutinous in the National Assembly on Thursday, though differently from when he was once charged in a court, as he asked party leader Nawaz Sharif to apologise for accepting a Saudi exile for a pardoned conviction. He proposed splitting up the country’s four provinces in up to 16 for good administration.

And in a speech that could rattle his colleagues in the country’s main opposition party, the ailing politician also offered a rare tribute to President Asif Ali Zardari’s political shrewdness, a day after they were seen up in arms against him in the house, saying one needed a doctorate to comprehend the moves of the man who also leads the ruling PPP.

Speaking in a debate on last month’s annual presidential address to parliament, Mr Hashmi said he felt ashamed up to now for accepting a ministry for some time in early 1980s under military ruler Gen Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, adding that for that “I apologise today to all”, and asking other politicians should do the same for their association with dictators.

“I will ask Nawaz Sharif that for 10 years he was made unable … (to play politics), he should apologise to the nation and Shahbaz Sharif should also apologise,” he said in a clear reference to the Dec 2000 deal under which then military president Pervez Musharraf said he had released the PML-N leaders in exchange for a 10-year exile in Saudi Arabia.

The government then said the deal, brokered by the Saudi royal family, had committed both Mr Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, to abstain from taking part in politics for 10 years. But both brothers have persistently denied making such a commitment, though critics have attributed the elder Sharif’s refusal to contest for a National Assembly seat until now as a compliance of that deal, which must have run out in December 2010.

Mr Hashmi led the party as acting president in the absence of the Sharif brothers before a court convicted him for mutiny in April 2004 for allegedly seeking to instigate an army mutiny by addressing a news conference in the parliament building the previous year.

In what could be another dig at Sharif brothers for their acceptance of exile in return for release from jail, he said in his speech: “This nation needs leaders who are ready to die for it, who are ready to give their blood.”

Mr Hashmi’s call for the creation of more provinces, especially in the most populous province of Punjab, is also likely to cause unease in the PML-N, which has opposed similar demands from several groups in the past, including one for a Seraiki-speaking southern Punjab and one of the former Bahawalpur princely state.

As he was justifying the creation of more provinces – he said they could be up to 15 or 16 – to facilitate administration, opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was seen escorting young party lawmaker Hamza Sharif, son of the Punjab chief minister, to empty benches on the government side, where the two remained closeted for quite some time, probably discussing the sidelined elderly politician’s move, which was greeted with cheers from many PPP lawmakers from southern Punjab.

Mr Hashmi demanded the framing of an easy mechanism to create new provinces and said the process should not be delayed until the next assembly “lest you find the country’s map changed”.

But Mr Hashmi’s call for Nawaz Sharif’s apology seemed to be more shocking for his party as almost all its members, had left the house, as if for a meeting, when the debate on the presidential address was still in progress.

After referring to the 1979 execution of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Dec 2007 assassination of former prime Benazir Bhutto – calling both of them martyrs – Mr Hashmi said he had told “friends” they had to do a doctorate degree to “understand the politics of Asif” (Ali Zardari).

“Friends, you need a PhD degree for this,” he said, and added: “The way he has played the game of politics, no one else can.”

The remarks came only a day after PML-N lawmakers held their noisiest protest in the National Assembly marked by some harsh slogans against the president that were ordered expunged from the record of the proceedings by acting speaker Faisal Karim Kundi.

No protest was held on Thursday despite the PML-N’s threat to continue doing it until the government comes out with a proper response to points raised by the opposition leader, including petroleum prices, ties with the United States, US drone attacks in tribal areas, and the recent release of a US spy operative after payment of blood money for two men he shot dead in Lahore.

Four more members – PPP’s Nadeem Afzal Gondal, PML-Q’s Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, MQM’s Salahuddin, and Fata independent Zafar Baig Bhittani –spoke in the debate before the house was adjourned until 10am on Friday.



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